The Artistic Heritage of Clay

A unit from a high school ceramics course with a studio emphasis was enriched with content from art history, art criticism, and aesthetics. This four-week unit, entitled The Artistic Heritage of Clay: Survival and Revival of Traditions, demonstrates how elective studio courses might be enhanced with the discipline-based approach. In four sections, the unit moves from a general historical investigation of ceramic objects, to study of the pottery of ancient Americans, the Mimbres culture of the Southwestern United States, to a specific focus on the work of María Martinez, the celebrated Native American potter of San Ildefonso Pueblo. The fourth section engages students in the creation of clay vessels using methods similar to those of the artist.

Within the ceramics course, The Artistic Heritage of Clay unit is preceded by four weeks of study of forming techniques, and is followed by five weeks of instruction that focus on students' development of their own ideas in ceramic form. The final five weeks of the course are spent examining revolutionary ceramic styles of contemporary artists and encouraging students to experiment beyond the traditional in their own work.

This unit demonstrates differences in discipline-based theory for general education (required art courses) and advanced study (elective art courses). Art for general education should present a balanced consideration for content derived from each of the four art disciplines; specialized advanced art courses, such as ceramics, painting, or art history, can focus primarily upon the respective discipline with enrichment from the other three art disciplines.


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This material originally appeared in Discipline Based Art Education: A Curriculum Sampler, © 1991, the J. Paul Getty Trust.

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